the invasion of iraq

producer's notebook
Notes from Richard Sanders, the director and co-producer of "The Invasion of Iraq," on the making of the documentary.

"The Invasion of Iraq" was a joint venture between PBS/FRONTLINE and Channel 4 in Britain. It was almost a year in the making. Production began while the fighting was still in progress as producer Jeff Goldberg and I started to closely monitor newspaper and television reports of the fighting. We then began an exhaustive series of off-the-record interviews with journalists and photographers who had been embedded with British and U.S. units. It was this that first alerted us to what would become many of the key stories in the program.

At the same time we began negotiating with the Pentagon and the British Ministry of Defence over access. This proved a lengthy process. The British in particular were wary, having been unhappy with previous documentary projects on British television. Their approval didn't come through until September, although the Pentagon had given its blessing in June.

Having decided to come on board, both gave full access. Soldiers of all ranks were enormously generous of their time. Each on-camera interview was preceded by a lengthy, off-the-record, background interview. These interviews proved invaluable in filling out our understanding of the war.

In July 2003 associate producer Ani King-Underwood made an initial three-week research trip to Iraq. We were keen that the program should reflect the experiences of all sides in the conflict. Ani immediately began gathering testimony from Iraqi civilians who had been caught up in the fighting and putting out feelers to obtain interviews with high-ranking Iraqi military figures.

The filming in Iraq in August posed major logistical problems. Temperatures were frequently well over 50 degrees Centigrade (122 degrees Fahrenheit). And safety was a major issue. Banditry was widespread and western television crews appeared to be a popular target. There was also a fear that Westerners in general were becoming targets of the insurgency. A young English freelancer had been shot in the head in a Baghdad street in July. Once filming began in August, suicide bombings quickly became a major issue. In Baghdad there was a curfew and travel between towns after dark was not an option.

Ordinary Iraqis were hospitable and willing and eager to share their experiences with us. Initially a number of senior military figures were also lined up for interviews. But as the situation in Iraq deteriorated over the summer of 2003, one by one they dropped out, or simply disappeared. Fear of the Fedayeen, of the insurgency, of the local population, and of the coalition forces all played a part. But one interviewee remained -- General Raad Majid Al-Hamdani, who had been the Supreme Commander of the Republican Guard divisions to the south of Baghdad. He became a key voice in the program.

A three-week whistle-stop tour of Army, Marine and Air Force bases around the U.S. followed in September and October. Then we interviewed Marc Garlasco in New York. Now a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch, during the war he had been the chief of high-value targeting at the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency. He provided a dramatic exposé of intelligence failings during the conflict.

A crew returned to Iraq in the new year to tie up some loose ends. They paid a visit to General Al-Hamdani. He told them he had been offered a job in the new Iraqi army, but had declined. Today he drives a taxi.

Richard Sanders
Feb. 26, 2004


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posted february 26, 2004

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